Monday, March 31, 2008

Olympic Issues

"We should not politicize the Olympics." Something to that effect gets said by some ICO higher-up anytime anyone questions the decision to award (reward?) China with the Olympics. But I don't think anyone is buying it. It's so obvious that the IOC is just trying to cover its hide after making a piss-poor decision to hand the Games, which are supposed to symbolize the best of the human spirit, to a country determined to do everything it can to trample said human spirit.

Even those of us with the shortest historical memory can take a look back and see that the Olympics have always been highly political. Was Hitler's use of the Games in 1936 not political? Were the Russian and American boycotts not political? Was the banning of South Africa from the Games for its refusal to condemn apartheid not political? Was the banning of Germany and Japan from the 1948 Games as "punishment" for being the aggressors of World War II not political?

Short answer: They were all political. The fact that athletes compete for their country is political. The process of awarding the Olympic Games to a city is political. Nearly every freaking thing about the Olympics is political. So I for one thinks the IOC needs to step up and start explaining.

Should, however, they stick with the party line, I think there's a bigger question to be asked and that is whether human rights are "political. " In my opinion, human rights are above politics. Defending human rights is not about what political system I believe in, it's a statement of belief in the value and dignity of human life.

And China is right up there with the big boys of human rights violations. The Chinese people are terribly oppressed. They are denied the right to free speech, living in fear of saying anything negative about the government. They are denied a free press and unfettered access to the Internet. They are even denied freedom over their own reproduction. Others, including those in Tibet, are denied the right to autonomy.

Now China isn't the lone bad boy of the world. Human rights violations are taking place all over the globe, including here in our own backyards. But we're not plying most major human rights violators with billions of dollars, rewarding them with a global stage as they give the world---and more importantly, their own citizens---a big middle finger.

But, at this point, what is to be done? The Opening Ceremonies are four months and one week away. All the talk about boycotting this or boycotting that is just talk---a way for other countries to pat themselves on the back and say they really pondered the issue while doing nothing in the end. And why, I wonder? I imagine we'd be up in arms if the Games were awarded to say Cuba. But China, and we all whisper among ourselves, but then smile politely when the host comes around. Why is that? Something about money maybe, and trade relations, and our pitiful dependence on China to supply way too many of our goods (especially considering the ridiculously poor health and safety standards they maintain and the way their workers are treated). Right, I almost forgot.

Hmm, looks like it ends up right back at politics after all.

(Also, on a semi-related note, does China not have any idea what Tiananmen Square conjures up for the rest of the world? I find it so odd that it's the setting for their big torch lighting ceremony, because all I can think of is the extreme violence perpetrated by a government against its citizens as they peacefully protested.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Calling All Internet Detectives

I need help identifying this plant.

I have encountered this plant on almost every hike I've done in the DC area. The first picture shows the entire plant (shrub? tree?), and it shows one of the larger versions of the plant that I have found. The second picture shows the leaves in more detail. From what I can tell, the plant keeps its leaves all year round and they remain green. (Otherwise they appear very early in the year, since I've been seeing these since late January). They are often found in clusters, and are part of the understory, though they're more often in areas of the forest where the canopy is fairly open rather than in the areas that are densely shaded. In general, the ground in the DC area is swampy, and they seem to thrive in that environment. I haven't yet seem any blooms on these plants, but it is still pretty early for that. Fairly often, the leaves are mottled as if the plant is being attacked by something.

My best guess is that it's some kind of rhododendron, but I'm not certain on that. Matthew, upon seeing them on the hike he did with me, also immediately went to rhododendron. I know there are many species of rhododendron, and it seems the closest match so far, but I'd like more input. Despite spending time with two large botany books today, I've yet to have that aha moment. So please, internet detectives get to work and identify this plant! Mucho thanks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Love Might Be Too Strong a Word

There's not really a lot of love lost between me and Houston. It's not my favorite city. It's not one of my 100 favorite cities. It's not even one of my 1,000 favorite cities (even though I haven't even been to nearly 1,000 cities). You get the point. So when I went to Houston at the beginning of February with the intent of writing an article about the city, I was a bit nervous. I don't mind being honest, but I was afraid I'd just come across as negative. There are, after all, people who like Houston, people who voluntarily move there. Weird, I know. But I think I managed to pull off a pretty good article. Check it out yourself. I doubt it convinces you to make a trip to the Bayou City, but perhaps it will give you a few good ideas of things to do if you ever find yourself there.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Well The Calendar Says It's Spring

I can't say that March is the best month for hiking in the DC region, especially this March, which certainly came in like the lion it's said to be, but has yet to become the lamb that it's said to evolve into. Cold, grey, and rainy have been the best ways to describe this month. To be honest, we have had a few nice days, but they have consistently been mid-week. The weekends have been gross. But I've survived and I'm close to being done with my first chapter. The weather willing, I'll do two hikes tomorrow, and then hike my final Metropolitan DC trail on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed.

On a positive note, getting out every single weekend to hike has really made me notice all the little changes that happen in the evolution of winter to spring. Each week I notice something new---the first crocuses and daffodils, the red buds of a maple, the blossoms on a cherry tree, the bright yellow of the forsythia, the earliest wildflowers, the greening of the underbrush, the flowering of magnolias. The hike I plan to do this coming Friday is in the National Arboretum, and I fully expect it to be rather lovely by then. The cherry blossoms are supposed to be in their full glory, and the magnolias and azaleas might be flowering too. A little sunshine would certainly help.

Anyhow, here are a few pictures of the springing of spring.

Another cool thing about hiking in the early spring, before the forests have turned green, is the opportunity to spot wildlife. It's certainly a lot easier to catch sight of whatever it is you hear tramping through the woods when the woods are bare. I've easily been able to pick out the Eastern Bluebird, whose feathers are electric blue, and I've been able to locate all the woodpeckers that I usually just hear. And back when I was just working on the proposal, Jeff and I actually caught sight of a coyote. Today, on a trip to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, which I didn't have high expectations for since the waterlilies for which the park is known don't bloom until summer, I actually had a pretty cool experience.

I saw a small red fox, which kept its eyes on me until I pulled out my camera at which point it ran away so I only got a lousy shot of it. I also saw a gorgeous Great-blue heron.

And in one of those cool nature channel moments, I watched a raccoon attack the nest of a Canada Goose. The goose went crazy, honking and hissing and flapping its wing, but that didn't deter the raccoon at all. Unfortunately, Jeff has our good camera with the zoom I needed, but I did manage to capture this shot. You can see the raccoon in the grassy area to the left of the tree. The goose is taking a break here, having worn itself out to no avail. It did later on have energy again, however, as it went crazy coming after me when I got kind of sort of close to it. (For both this shot and the one of the heron, I had to zoom beyond the capacity of my point and shoot camera to take a good picture, so the quality isn't that great.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How Aware Are You?

Go here. Watch the video. Then respond in the comments whether you passed the test.

(Don't look at the comments until you've done the test, in case someone gives something away.)

I failed.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Self-Documenting the Birthday

So in the spirit of keeping up the tradition of having pictures from my birthday every year, I self-documented my present opening.

Here's me with the boxes my mom sent. My eyes are the same color as our walls in this photo.

And here I am modeling the fancy-pants eye mask she sent. I'm going to be a stylish traveler. No cheap, scratchy free airline version for me. But let me tell you, taking a picture of yourself while wearing an eye mask that blocks out all light is not the easiest thing. Imagine that.

This one captures me in action opening the box that contained lots of sweet treats plus a journal and some other goodies.

Pretty awesome photos, eh?

Good Health to Me, Good Wealth to Me

At 7:03 p.m. EST this evening, I will have been in this world for 27 years. So far it hasn't really felt much like my birthday. But then again what are birthdays supposed to feel like? When I woke up this morning, I had to remind myself that it's my birthday. That's because Jeff is out of the country, so I'm celebrating solo. I think out of the 8 birthdays I've had since Jeff and I met, we've been apart for 5 of them so this is nothing new. But when he missed them in the past, I was living with roommates, so there was someone else around to do the whole celebrating thing with. I'm going out a with a friend after work for a drink or dinner, and tomorrow I'm going to lunch with two friends from work. Also my brother is coming in town on Wednesday, and my mom is sending gifts, so it's not as if the day is going unnoticed. It's just going to be a little odd opening presents all by my lonesome. I'm not quite sure how to approach it, not having someone else to show my gifts to.

Anyhow, this past year has been a good one. My freelance writing has gotten off the ground. It still has a ways to go before it's truly airborne, but it's on its way. I signed my first contract to write a book. Not the Great American Novel I have planned, but a start. And the planning for our Round the World trip has picked up speed, and is manifesting itself as a blog. And this upcoming year promises to bring more excitement with it. We'll actually take off on our trip, and by my next birthday, I'll be very familiar with South America. I'll also have completed my book and hopefully it will be well on its way to arriving in bookstores. And I'm sure there will be a fair amount of surprises that pop up over the course of the next 365 days. It will be fun to see what the first year of my "late twenties" brings.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Extra Extra Read All About It

I have an article in today's San Antonio Express News about rafting the Grand Canyon. You can read it here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

They Must Think We're Stupid

I just went to the CNN website, and in a bright yellow banner titled "Developing News" that spans the top of the page it says: "President Bush says, 'It's clear our economy has slowed.'"

Thank you CNN and President Bush. I would have had no idea about the current state of affairs without that very important bulletin.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

With all of this hiking...

I'm either going to end up in the best shape of my life or fat as a cow.

I covered about 20 miles this weekend. I can feel it, though fortunately it's an "I worked hard" ache and not any real pain.

But all those miles, make me a hungry, hungry hippo.

My existence has condensed into two things: hike and eat, sometimes simultaneously.